Addiction Recovery or Trading Diseases?

By June 15, 2013Addiction Recovery

One of the clichés in addiction recovery circles is the old vignette of the smoke filled rooms of AA with the distinct scent of coffee brewing. The rooms are no longer smoke filled, but all one needs do is step outside before or after a 12 Step meeting and holy smokes’, its presence is alive and not so well…

There is an unspoken “hall pass” handed to recovering people that might be articulated something like the self-talk of, “Look, I’ve stopped killing myself with the misuse and abuse of drugs and other unhealthy behaviors, so smoking, eating poorly and a sedentary lifestyle are the least of my worries.”

As it turns out, many of us in the addiction recovery community end up actually “trading illnesses.” For example, trading alcoholism for lung and heart disease from smoking or trading prescription drug addiction for type II diabetes as a systemic, acquired complication of poor nutrition and marginal exercise habits.

The practice is condoned and perpetuated–even in contemporary addiction treatment facilities–because of the loyalty to a compartmentalized approach to getting “healthy?” in this country. It never ceases to amaze me to see addiction treatment professionals who are in poor health or who have a cigarette smoking practice. It sends a mixed message when and where folks in early recovery are pretty mixed up already.

Now what difference does all this really make, you might wonder. “Hey, my husband is not slamming heroin anymore. Let him smoke and do the fast food, Häagen-Dazs shuffle if he wants to…”

Not. Or at least not for long because all of these additional, chronic, unhealthy habits contribute to addiction relapse.

So let’s face it, we have really unsatisfactory statistics for long-term sobriety in addiction treatment circles. Ask 10 experts, get 10 different answers. Why? Because there really are no long term studies to monitor people after initial treatment and because the concept of “wellness” as a lifestyle is just now–at this late date–taking hold as a culturally accepted practice.

But the conundrum drums on as the hall passes continue to get passed out and compartmentalized health care stubbornly persists. Addiction treatment in its initial acute care must begin inculcating integrated and holistic practices from the get-go including a way to habituate and continue those practices when assimilating back into community. Practices including a synergistic program of moving, eating and thinking well–for Life–sans the hall passes.

Addiction recovery is all about getting well and staying well and not trading one chronic, potentially fatal disease for another. Getting and staying well require a holistic approach from the start if we ever expect to work toward wholeness of mind, body and spirit. Addiction treatment is not a, “been there, done that”, one shot boot camp as we see evinced time and time again. Who among us does not have a friend or loved one who has been to multiple “rehabs?” Long-term addiction recovery is practicing long-term wellness.

Put the hall passes for poor health practices in the round file and I offer a challenge to all addiction treatment professionals: Healer, heal thyself.

Otherwise we surely can expect to keep gettin’ what we’re gettin’ if we keep doin’ what we’re doin’.

A couple of more platitudes in recovery circles are, “progress, not perfection” and “easy-does-it.”

So c’mon, let’s keep making progress and agreed, easy-does-it, but DO it to get and stay well.

Dr. Herby Bell is a Recovery and Wellness Coach and owner of Recovery Health Care, an integrated approach to wellness and addiction recovery in Saratoga, California. For more information please call 650 474 9411 or Email:  Connect with me online too:  Facebook | Twitter | Linkedin

Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • Great information here that makes so much sense, Herby. It would help greatly if addiction counselors set the example for those new to recovery. I remember going to a couple of my daughter’s meetings and the crowd outside the door, was clustered together amid of cloud of smoke. Not healthy for anyone. I love your idea of moving, eating and thinking well. That is good advice for everyone. Thanks!

    • HerbyBell says:

      Thanks, Cathy. It’ll take the courage of our convictions to model integrated wellness in this instant gratification world, but we are the people we’ve been waiting for, yeah? Thanks again for your personal experience and comments.

  • Thank you Dr. Bell, you are probably stating here what many others have thought but did not say. So thanks for just going ahead and saying it! I have had similar thoughts when I would see nursing staff clearly not leading healthy life styles working on a cardiac unit. You so right. Surely we can do better than to trade in one addiction/disease for another!

  • HerbyBell says:


    Thanks for your thoughtful validation that we can re-think some of the ways we “tolerate” certain unhealthy behaviors in health care circles. It’s how change takes hold and I so appreciate your solid, while gentle encouragement!

  • Jody Lamb says:

    Herby, great point. Boy, does this ever sound familiar. On the subject of a loved one’s sobriety, I remember one of my family members telling me, “It’s best not to say anything about [loved one]’s cigarette smoking and not eating enough. Let’s not push it. It’s better than the drinking and if [loved one] tries to give up the cigarette smoking or another habit, [loved one] will drink again.” I started buying ice cream for [loved one] because this person told me that when alcoholics crave alcohol, ice cream helps calm the feeling….sometimes [loved one] only ate ice cream for dinner.

    Thanks for sharing an important message.
    Jody Lamb Wants You To Read…Every step countsMy Profile

  • HerbyBell says:

    Thanks, Jody. Great story and no kiddin’ and no, not a popular perspective in practice, but as you allude to, if relapse is not about a lot of these gateway behaviors, then we’re in worse shape than I thought. But alas, relapse IS a lot about these unhealthy practices so let’s make the, “yes, let’s DO talk about it” perspective more popular, shall we?
    HerbyBell Wants You To Read…Diet and Exercise in Sobriety: A Check ListMy Profile

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